One of the Recentius teams in Operation LAPIS, while working on a particular collaborative task, strayed a bit off topic -- discussing giraffes of all things. They came to the decision that they wanted to buy a giraffe to keep as a pet (ignoring the logistics of such a thing, we'll just let it slide for now) and subsequently asked me how much denarii (a type of Roman currency) they would need in order to buy a giraffe. I haven't ever read an ancient source that listed a specific price for a giraffe (although we know they were sold and displayed around the empire), and so that would pose a problem to arbitrarily assign a price.
|According to Dio, Caesar brought a giraffe with him back from Alexandria|
In a few minutes of discussion and problem solving, they decided that if the average salary of a Roman soldier was 225 denarii, and then they estimated the salary of a current soldier of around $35,000, they could use that ratio of denarii to dollars in order to estimate the cost of a giraffe. After some research, they discovered that (apparently) a giraffe costs around $30,000 on the open market and so if they saved up about 200 denarii, they could have their own virtual giraffe pet. (I suppose I'll have to let them know what the upkeep is after the initial purchase.)
There it is right there -- problem-based learning, not as a huge elaborate thing, but as an approach to how and why you learn new information. While there are obvious problems with the accuracy of the price that they figured out, nevertheless we have the ability to foster this kind of inquisitive knowledge on a daily basis. We should routinely embrace, not squash, these opportunities to model authentic exploration.